tv White House Chronicles WHUT July 3, 2009 6:00pm-6:30pm EDT
pioneering. he built a great change, and to me, san francisco is not just the city where cable cars climb to the stars. it is also, for me, the center of a kind of energetic journalism pioneers in this building behind me. and in this tradition, we have the honor of talking to phil bronstein, who is an editor at large and a great crusading journalist with a reputation up and down the country for his unique jugglers. >> "white house chronicle" is produced in collaboration with howard university television. and now the program, hosted by national columnist llewellyn king and co-host linda
gasparello. >> we are back, and i'm happy to be joined by phil bronstein, one of america's great journalists, known all around the country and especially no to the public on the west coast. he has been a journalist in the bay area, san francisco, and an editor for many years. would you like to run over what you do these days? >> i think running over is a great phrase for my career. i started out at kqed here in the 70's, and they had an interesting nightly news show, a semiprofessional operation made up of old newspaper reporters, and i went to the examiner in 1980, became an investigative reporter, and
really the first full-time foreign correspondent maybe ever when i was in the philippines, and then i went to el salvador, central america, peru and the middle east. in 1981 i became the editor of the "examiner," and in the merger in 2000, i became editor of the "chronicle." i am now editor at large, encompassing many things, including figuring out this internet phenomenon. >> one thing you are doing is to try to bring the disciplines of journalism together, through the tendency of the emphasis to hold up paper and say, who wrote this?
we have all experienced that. i did. how are you making out? the newspaper people, myself being one of them -- how on discipline and even the best of the internet is. thrown together. >> it depends where you look and what you're looking for. the internet is an open pipeline. that is what it is. the water just rushes through it. information, the people -- i will give you an example. tom has been writing about the bay area for the paper for decades. very well known, he writes a lot of books you will find in
bookstores and supermarkets about fishing and so on. he wrote a blog, one of those messy things in that messy media about a gentleman who fell in yosemite and died. on that blog, he received 500, 1000 -- lots of comments from people. so there you have the messiness you're talking about. a lot of people commenting and commenting. but if you look through the comments, people said they would have been eyewitnesses to this. they were either climbing above where he fell or below, and you had in there a lot of discussion about what kind of things yosemite and the park system could do to make us a safer route to climb. you have these comments where people can say anything, and you could as a reporter extended store significantly,
you would have first hand knowledge and eyewitness accounts, assuming you verify them, which we assume you did. you could use your verified eyes and ears of people you would not normally have access to. >> one thing we feel in washington, a lot of things have just spun away. the san diego paper was one of them. san diego brought the downfall. not have happened. national reporters in detail with any member of congress, the local papers and the world. is?
>> i think you bring up a critical point. it is the watchdog role we perform. it is essential, a part of the fabric of the history of this country, and certainly part of the fabric of politics in this country. we have thomas jefferson saying he was not treated well by the press but understood the value of having an unfettered press. i think the addition of obnoxious washington bureaus that will say because we're in california, the capital bureau has been a devastating thing for journalism. i do think that there are other media cropping up involving professional journalists. we are not making any money. so it is not a barrier.
as an example, i'm in the board of the senate investigative in berkeley, and we have started and have funding for organizations for the historical project, and the function is to hire reporters, which wear in the process of doing, to cover california from an investigative standpoint to fill in where -- i am so confused about who is shuffling, who is buying, who is selling. but still mcclatchy with the "los angeles times," which is in bankruptcy, and the "chronicles." we no longer have people to cover these stories, so we have something that is now a nonprofit organization, a
privately funded, to fill that gap. >> these become pressure groups and themselves. they had a mission, a defined mission, with a proprietor with their own mission, and they can counterbalance that to some extent. and professionalism. we took it very seriously. we do. >> first of all, the history of what we might like to call objective journalism is actually quite short because a lot of newspapers were vanity publications and this was never that way until recent history. they would have imposed -- and
they would impose their own perspective and i would say that that went through. >> i would agree with you, and i think what happened and what was terribly beneficial from the public point of view was the entitlement to a byline. when i started in journalism, a byline was handed out grudgingly because you might build up a reputation of followers and what more money. but the bylines, i think, did much to approve the quality of journalism. the individual author. >> what is interesting is that we have the film festival this
year and robert redford was one of the people being honored. i did a question and answer with him on stage as part of the festival and asked a question about "all the president's men," which he was instrumental about. he worked with woodward and bernstein. you look at watergate, which encouraged a lot of young people to become journalists, and it also raised the specter of celebrity journalism. >> i think it did. i worked with the post and knew carl bernstein quite well. i liked him a lot. but the thing about watergate was that suddenly you had kids want to learn their lesson to bring down the government. >> i will take the content.
i will take the motivation. you can craft that and start somebody out over in police, and if you still get that level of passion, you have got somebody you want to keep. but the issue of celebrity journalists, and i have had my own brushes, i think it is something that has not been good for the profession. >> i do not think that either. people are coming out with the sole intent of becoming colonists, because there is more glamour, you get on television, presumably to make a lot of money. >> steve lopez in the "los angeles times" does not only well as a columnist, but he is being made into movies all over
the place. lopez is a talented guy. >> it was also an explanation of how it dedicated journalist can change things. >> i loved the movie "the paper," a romantic comedy. not for the romantic piece, but because it gave a great picture of the chaotic nature, and we were talking earlier about the quirky personalities of people who inhabited them, and i think that is something that has been helpful to journalists. >> but what about when everyone is a journalist? where will this stakeout?
>> i think people will continue. as long as the self-published, people will. there is an ego attraction that will be overwhelming. but in terms of those things that become successful, if i knew what the model once, i would probably be heralded in media all over the world, because nobody knows what the answer is. will it be flat screen readers that mimic paper but are not paper? >> always felt when this began that the book could not be changed. i tried to reinvent the book. a friend of mine was in the
habit of tearing the pages out of a book. but old ladies would come up to him, some products of the hitler youth destroying books. so i thought, well, the book has not changed in many millennia, really. >> i think when they come out with these tablets that are not thick and bulky but are literally as thin as a magazine she or can be folded up and are in full color, and presumably all the electronics work, you will see substantial portions of print-dedicated people. moment.
"a man in seoul" -- i am reading tom wolfe, a man in full. i am reading it as a book. it is too heavy. what story that you have done>> i would say marcos in the philippines. i had gotten to know some people center for assistance to government was. and some stories early for when they were not paying attention. and they went straight through. they had to know aquino, they were invited back when you shop on the tarmac. -- when he was shot on the tarmac. i got a call at 3 in the morning telling me to get on a plane and i spent pretty much from that moment until he was thrown out of the country in 1986, and it was a circumstance where you could really -- that first full day i was in manila, and practically never been
anywhere million people in his funeral march, which lasted an entire day, and monsoon's were hitting, it was 110 degrees, pouring rain and lightning, but you could also feel the history of the place moving beneath you. as might be happening in iran right now, things were changing that might have substantial consequences. and to be able to go and be sued and threaten by the chief of staff and then get an interview and spend more time than i ever wanted with imelda marcos, and getting to know that culture, which is one of the great gifts journalism, that you get to be nosy and find things out and watch that conspire, and have a keynote take over as the great hope of change and not
been to change people needed. that was the story. >> comeback to obama, the president and his press relations. what impresses you? >> they said about george bush that he needed to -- when he ran for president first time, the issue was, this is a guy you wanted to have a beer with. that was the question. at the time, a sufficient number people said yes. with obama, the feeling is, i want this guy to want to have a beer with me. you want him to like you, an interesting shift in dynamics. he seems very relaxed, mostly extraordinary call, and he has got a great seductive quality
about him, is wife, his family, the new york times is spreading loving pieces about the perfect to date night. it is an inspiration to our culture. things are better of looking at them black-and-white. >> the reason for that is because the wars do not go the way you think they are going to go. i had a job a while ago as an assistant editor so i went to the editor, ben bradlee, but i
took the precaution of in another job first, just in case the negotiation did not succeed. and he said no, i do not have anything for you, and i said i had been invited to the other job, and he said, "you would leave the washington post for nuts and bolts journalism"? i said, not if you could make an offer i can't refuse. he didn't, and i left. but then rather deprecating things were said about my trade. i thought i would end my days to inform correspondence work for -- or working on movies. where is your professional life
taking you? where do you expect to go? >> i did not expect as much of an interest and curiosity with the intersection of all of this technology and the practice of journalism. so i'm actually going to start print columns. i had not had one of those for nine years. i will start them in a few weeks. but most of my time is that dealing with, is there and where is there -- how does it work, a nexus for the technology we have available to us and our desire to do the craft we have done so long intersect? and how do we get there? not even how do we impose our traditions on the internet -- that is the wrong way of looking at it, but how can one help the other?
so i think that is the most interesting thing that is going on, and i'm happy to be marginally involved in that. >> how do you feel about the newspaper game? >> nervous. >> it is the same thing a lot of people have done. you cannot really attack on the and the way we do in television reporting. the challenge facing the government now is that the administration will have to decide. >> i have to have facts in my column? >> a few would help. >> i did not mean to change you totally. but of course you had this novel foreign correspondent thing, all due.
people of this not been covering politics. you could not get back on the campaign trail fast enough. and with that. but what part of a world would you like to go to now? i do not know what about the payments are. i have not talked about it. my visit to china, which was fairly brief -- i was stationed here, and how would i get the news? i would have to learn the language, which i probably would not have been very good at.
>> i think that helps. i was lucky in the philippines, because most people spoke english, and i learned spanish enough to go to central america to get by there. i think pershing is a dangerous thing. -- parachuting is a dangerous thing. bill keller from the "new york times" got a dangerous perception going there, but i was little surprise to learn that bill had never been there. i was not sure i was comfortable having someone, i do not care if i'm the editor or not, writing front-page stories about a country they have never been to. >> i attended is interesting that they write stories about countries that have not been to. they see it all the time -- i think it is interesting. the ultimate question here is, this is "the new york times." they have a correspondent captured in iraq, then in
afghanistan, held for seven months. they asked other papers not to write about it, they did not. this is an extraordinary thing, that this was kept. more than 40 newspapers were involved in a code of silence. we never had a code of silence that extended across newspapers, lots of them. >> it is unsettling. >> i find it disturbing. >> one does not want to argue against the saving of a life. when i was an editor, there were always three standards where i said i would continue holding a story for publication. one was if it involves children. another one is if someone high up the ladder could inform me it was a national security issue. the other is if it was someone high up the ladder. it is hard to be critical of
what the new york times and other people had to do, because i'm not sure. but i find it disturbing that people want to keep it quiet. it did not amount to anything, because you never saw the story. >> i find it disturbing, because it's just one rule for us and another rule for everyone else. >> this is the question. how we kurtz called last weekend and he was doing a story for a comment. i said, look, i'm just curious as to whether the paper -- >> yes. >> i was curious as to whether the paper would extend the same courtesy when other people in other albums have come to ask them to keep things quiet. i'm not sure about that.
>> and it could be egg on their faces or worse. newsweek had the scandal story, matt drudge ran at that, and he is a well-known fellow. >> and the national enquirer broke the john edwards story, which was very legitimate. >> i go back to a newspaper i worked on in england. the largest sex scandal that britain has ever seen. it involved the most beautiful girl ever involved in a sex scandal in britain. but the newspaper worked for did not publish it. it leaked out in america, they looked stupid. >> yes, you hold those stories and your own risk. >> holding any story. >> christopher hitchens once
said that the convergence of sex and politics has been of interest for five dozen years or more and will always be of interest. the idea that this is not a subject we want to touch is silly. >> i agree with you. it is a pleasure. >> likewise. >> thank you for coming in. we hope that journalism continues. >> journalism will continue. we just do not know exactly how. >> thank you very much. phil bronstein, one of america's most distinguished journalists. we will see you next week. >> "white house chronicle" is produced in collaboration with howard university television. from washington d.c., this has been "white house chronicle," a weekly announcement with insight and a sense of humor. this program may be seen on pbs